Lawrence Burns


Ambulance calls… there have been some very, very upsetting sad ones. One of the worst, a lady and her three children were killed when the train hit a car at Fraser Road down here. That was very, very sad. But we had lots of exciting ambulance calls, that’s for sure. Car accidents and rescues and things like that.

I think one of the most rewarding ones – not that we’re looking for rewards, we do it because we want to help people – we got an ambulance call to go up onto 14th up here close to Lake Trail, and there was an emergency so the siren went. I will always remember getting to that house and the lady is running out with this little baby a few weeks old, and she’s puffing – and she hands this baby to me and says, “I’ve been giving it mouth-to-mouth” – it was just in the early days of the mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration that we know so well now. So I started giving it mouth-to-mouth and she told me quickly what had happened, she found it in the crib, crib death they call it oftentimes. So I gave this little baby mouth-to-mouth all the way to the hospital in Comox and that little baby survived. The only one that we ever had of those crib death things. Because the grandma gave mouth-to-mouth right away. Most times we got there and nobody was doing anything so it was kind of hopeless. So that was very exciting and rewarding and I was so happy.

A number of years later, I always had a fire safety badge where the Girl Guides used to come to the Fire Hall, and I would give them a three night course on fire safety and including in it was CPR. And this little girl came up to me after one of the classes, and she said “Are you Mr. Burns?”and I said yes, and she said, “you saved my life. I was that little baby that you saved.” Well, I’m telling you, tears came down my eyes and I thought man oh man, I felt like hugging her! But, about 20 odd years later another little girl came to me, and asked me if I was Mr. Burns. She was the daughter of the lady. She said “you saved my mum’s life”. So I thought, I’m getting too old!

Do you have any memories at Puntledge River?

Yes, I nearly drowned there. I always talk about my hero who saved my life. I wouldn’t be here today. He pulled me out of the Puntledge River. We called it the deep hole in those days, which is now Puntledge Park. Everybody went down there in the summer to use the river, tubing and that. Anyway I wasn’t a good swimmer. I thought I could swim, but I tried coming down the rapids and I didn’t hit the rocks. They all were kind of doing it and having a ball, and I thought I should be able to do that, but I found out I couldn’t. As far as I was concerned, I couldn’t make it, and this friend, Dick Downey came out and he was on the beach and saw my trouble. When I was in school they told us that if we ever went to rescue anybody when they were drowning – I didn’t think I ever would because I wasn’t that good a swimmer – be careful, because they’d grab onto you and pull you down as well. And even though it just came automatic, I grabbed this guy when he got me and was swimming me in to the shore and I remember, I was fighting, I did that same thing and I guess that teacher was right.

Now, on the other side, I’ve been up there quite a number of times with the fire department and ambulance. I don’t know how many people I have tried to help bring back to life back up the Puntledge River over the years. And there again, so many times… one time they were working on the beach there on this little boy, a child, and I took over giving mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration but I wasn’t getting any exchange of air. So I tipped the person over like you’re supposed to do, then the water just poured out and I thought, ahh.. they’d been giving mouth-to mouth but it hadn’t been doing any good at all. So that was another one.

We used the Puntledge River and Morrison Creek quite often when we were training in the Fire Department. Puntledge school is down there, so we would go down there on an exercise. There’s no fire hydrant. It’s broke down. Or the city water works. What are we going to do? So we set up portable pumps and that. So we used to use it down there quite a bit for pumping from the river. I know that area very well.

I didn’t talk too much about Lake Trail area. Did you talk about when the pipeline went from behind the school? Anyway, the river was the only way here, to begin with, and when they came up the river the first settlers, everything on the east side was flat, perfect farmland. On the west side was just timber, bush, and in 1874 the first bridge was built across the river and this fellow, Reg Pidcock, one of the first foremen who came here, thought “hmm, I’ll build a mill. Everybody’s coming here. They need lumber. Lots of logs over there.”

So how was he going to run the mill? He walked up through the bush, hunting or something, they claim, and he went up through there and he found a creek, Morrison Creek that’s up behind Lake Trail School. “If I could just get the water from there down to the mill, then it would run the mill”. Then he dug a ditch, by hand, and it had to go down deep enough so that it went by gravity down to the mill pond that he had. And the mill pond where they stored the water, was where the parking lot is in front of Shopper’s Drug Mart and the Arbutus Hotel, that’s not what it’s called now. Unbelievable, to get some contractor with an excavator now to do it would be millions of dollars but he did it all by hand! And then they had a flume across the highway about in front of the telephone office, went over the bank right down to the mill which was on the river, and it ran the mill. So there was lots of hard work back in those days.

That was before my time. My dad remembered the pipeline and I remember the remains of the mill pond. We used to go down there from the elementary school and play with the pollywogs and the skunk cabbage and all the rest that was in the parking lot there.

Do you remember your first contact with new inventions like television?

Yes, I do. The Burns family never had a television of our own until 1970. It just was an accessory, kind of thought I might get one but I never ever got around to it. Across the road from the garage was a brick building, Eaton’s furniture store. They had television sets, and when the World Series was on, they would always have the televisions going. I could watch the gas pumps to see if any customers came, and watch the ball game. That was back, before we sold the garage in 1960. Then in later years my aunt had television, and we used to go over on Friday nights and watch Lawrence Welk and some of these other old shows.

So, computers – well I’m an anti-computer person and I never got into it, I refused to. But eventually just in the last few years somebody gave me one. My daughters wanted to give me theirs and I said no, I don’t want one in the house. The only thing I could see I really needed it for was typing and I had a typewriter, but my typewriter gave up so … anyway I have a computer but don’t ask me how it works. I use it now, but that’s just me. I get calls, these scams and I really am dumb when it comes to these, the guy told me it was haywire and I needed it fixed, I thought maybe he did know something. Anyway, it was a scam. He asked me if I had a mouse and I said “no, we don’t keep mice here”, I said!